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Beto O'Rourke joins the presidential race: Can excitement carry him to the White House?

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Beto O'Rourke entered the presidential race Thursday -- among the least credentialed, least experienced candidates in a crowded Democratic pack, but also among those generating the most buzz.

The former three-term Texas congressman is well-positioned at a time Democrats are desperate for a new approach, fresh ideas and an infusion of charisma. The candidate whose signature achievement was galvanizing Democrats behind a Senate campaign he ultimately lost will quickly test how willing the party's voters are to eschew political pedigree and policy experience for optimism and eloquent energy.

"This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us," O'Rourke said in a video announcing his candidacy. "The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater."

"They will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America," he added.

He has planned a series of events over the next several days in Iowa, which will hold the first voting in the Democratic nominating season next February.

O'Rourke, 46, captivated the attention of Democrats last year when his long-shot bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz galvanized a national political movement.

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He fell short. That would have been a serious career setback for most politicians, if not a career-ender. But in O'Rourke's case, the national momentum behind him morphed into a clamor for a presidential launch.

Whether it is gliding on his skateboard across a Whataburger parking lot or delivering an impassioned address about the horrors Central American immigrants face in their journey to the U.S., O'Rourke draws an immense audience for everything he does.

Democrats nationwide were so enthralled by him during his Senate campaign that they dug into their pockets to propel his run with nearly $80 million in mostly small-dollar donations -- nearly double what the incumbent raised. In the end, although he lost, O'Rourke came closer to unseating a Republican senator than any Texas Democrat had done in 40 years.

If the candidate can draw crowds and dollars at a similar pace in the presidential primary elections, he will be a considerable force.


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